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Tycho / on Fri, Apr 11 2003 at 6:07 am

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Has This Ever Happened To Yoo

As today’s strip illustrates, we do not have a hobby that can be discussed in polite company.  Walking near the metal detector for my flight to Kansas City, I wisely truncated a tale I had begun regarding “hunting men.”  It really is nothing to us, it’s as though we’re talking about “the game” or what have you, but the terminology and graphic depictions we gleefully relate are actually fairly hideous to the other people in line for groceries.

On the day you call Wednesday, and I call…  Wednesday, I mean, I call it that too, I suggested that it would require a chunk of play totaling no less than twelve hours to discuss Galactic Civilizations in any meaningful fashion with you.  Perhaps as a way to depict the engaging quality of the game, it turned out to be thirteen and a half hours.  To elaborate further, those hours were consecutive.   

The tone has clearly been set for reviews of the game:  “This game is what Master of Orion 3 wasn’t,” they declare with the satisfaction unique to people engaged in iconoclasm.  It is what Master of Orion 3 wasn’t because at the most basic level they are two different games with vastly different objectives.  Alone in the Wilderness, I maintain that MoO3 is still an excellent game.  That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t mind a patch.  But as a mechanism for managing a Star Empire, the granularity of the simulation is far greater than Galactic Civilizations.  What MoO3 does incorrectly is overestimate the gaming community, a flaw no patch will resolve.         

When I like a genre, and perhaps you are the same way, I become a sort of haggard street evangelist for it.  You have probably seen the evidence of this.  Galactic Civilizations, however, requires no evangelism.  The game apparently came out for IBM’s OS/2 in the Mesozoic, a ray of light for the platform, and having done so years ago its creators have had a long time to think about it.  So, like Moonbase Commander, the game has essentially been examined and re-examined for a sufficient time - slow-roasting, as it were - until the final result is so tender, it simply pulls off the bone.  You travel from system to system in the ships you create, colonizing worlds and creating new technologies.  These are things that every sensible person wants to do.

The affection for Science Fiction - with its emphasis on exploration, morality, and conflict - is established throughout.  Indeed, an Enterprise-esque “Survey Ship” seeks out anomalies and space debris that grant incremental bonuses to your society.  Every now and then, you will be presented with some Sci-Fi scenario what will test your mettle and alter your alignment - for example, your cackling scientists have invented a way to create super-soldiers from corpses, but warriors so revived are in constant terror and agony.  Two guesses on whether or not I went with an unspeakable horde.  While the record does show that I loathe the undead, as committed as I am to that position, I’m also of the opinion that a groaning legion of walking dead is its own reward.  Alignment plays into the game mainly in subtle ways, but there are advanced technologies available to good and evil civs.

The first game I played, I won not through conflict, or technological superiority, or political maneuvers - though all of those are valid victory conditions.  There is a way to win by simply exerting and extolling your culture, which was too delicious not to try for.  Starbases can be built anywhere, and exert influence - they can be made to exert even more with a variety of modules you can add.  Of course, if they wouldn’t succumb to the allure of the Space Waterpark or Space Restaurant Chain (I’m not kidding, those are real examples), my armada - also known as the Sales Force - would certainly be happy to show them merchandise from our military catalog.  I was briefly aware that, on the world of Artrus I, children playing with tiny replicas of our gleaming fleets would look up - into the purple sky of their world - to see those selfsame craft, and unaware of their terrible purpose there, feel exhilarated.

Combat, I mean, eh.  Think Civilization.  One, I mean.  Stack of ships A meets stack of ships B and combat is resolved.  Invading worlds is a bit different, in that there are items you can invest in before a conflict to soften resistance.  Combat is there to get the job done, and it does, but it’s hardly the focus of the game.  Establishing hegemony is, exerting dominance in one of four completely valid victory paths.     

Galactic Civilizations succeeds on many levels, but perhaps its central achievement is making it simple to jump in and play.  It is a very easy game to recommend to people, and is a taste easily acquired.  Is it better than MoO3?  For many people, it will be.  For my part, the more turn based strategy games, the better.  I think there is more than enough room for both. 

I did not relate my Cowboy Killers saga previously because I had busied myself eradicating alien species.  Today I will describe to you as best I can what makes them so regrettable.  This is something I will do later, however, as we are supposed to see a playable version of “Brute Force” today and that will be my focus.  Brute Force intrigued me from the first, and I thought it had a very interesting feel at E3, but they received such poor feedback that the game has since been altered - to what extent, I have no idea.  Meditations on this topic will go up this weekend, or Monday.

(CW)TB out.

we light up the mic like a silmaril


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